Coach, businessman deny circumventing Harvard admissions through $1.5M bribe

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A former Harvard fencing coach and a wealthy businessman rejected allegations on the $1.5 million kickback involved in getting the businessman’s sons into the Ivy League school.

The 67-year old ex-coach Peter Brand and 61-year-old businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao were arrested Monday and face conspiracy charges, a year after a newspaper revealed the controversy behind the admission of Zhao’s son as recruited fencers.

The print medium Boston Globe reported that Brand has sold his property to Zhao for around double of its assessed value.

Prosecutors said that the businessman, who hails from Potomac, Maryland and is CEO of a telecommunications company, has also paid for the ex-coach’s car and helped his son’s education expenses.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Boston Division head Joseph Bonavolonta, in a statement, said that the arrest of the two shows the consequence of their action.

“Today’s arrests show how Peter Brand’s and Jie Zhao’s plan to circumvent the college admissions process ended up backfiring on both of them. Now they are accused of exchanging more than $1.5 million in bribes for their own personal benefit,” he said.

Zhao refused to concede, as his attorney said that the wealthy businessman will strongly defend his innocence in court.

In an email, Zhao’s attorney William Weinreb underscored that the businessman’s children have earned their place in Harvard, being “internationally competitive fencers.”

“Jack Zhao’s children were academic stars in high school and internationally competitive fencers who obtained admission to Harvard on their own merit. Both of them fenced for Harvard at the Division One level throughout their college careers,” Weinreb said.

Court documents show that the businessman’s son was captain of the fencing team and has attended Harvard between 2014 and 2018. His younger son, on the other hand, started joining the combat sport in 2017 and is a member of the fencing team.

Facing the allegations, the ex-coach, meanwhile, has appeared before a Boston federal court judge in a brief online hearing.

Brand was released as the judge has ordered him to pay a $100,000 secured bond.

Attorney Douglas Brooks, Brand’s representative in court, said that the coach will look forward for the truth to come out.

“The students were academic and fencing stars. Coach Brand did nothing wrong in connection with their admission to Harvard,” Brooks said in a statement via email.

The conspiracy between the two was first revealed back in 2016 when the ex-coach allegedly received nearly $1 million from Zhao for his three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre in Needham. At that time, the property was assessed to be at only $549,300.

Instead of living in the property, Zhao sold it for a steep loss several months later.

Authorities said the ex-coach has refused to show the payments Zhao has made for Harvard. Brand was dismissed from Harvard in July 2019 for conflict-of-interest policy violations.

A Harvard spokesperson was mum on the issue on the day of the arrest.

Meanwhile, court documents showed that Brand has been in financial trouble since 2012.

His financial dilemma has eventually led to bribery, prosecutors believe.

“Jack doesn’t need to take me anywhere and his boys don’t have to be great fencers. All I need is a good incentive to recruit them,” Brand allegedly told an unnamed co-conspirator.

According to prosecutors, Zhao gave $1 million to a fencing charity months prior to his older son’s entry to Harvard.

After Zhao’s son started the combat sports in the fall of 2014, authorities said the charity has granted $100,000 to a foundation established by Brand and his spouse.

Eventually, Zhao has started his direct payments to Brand, prosecutors said.

Zhao’s and Brand’s case is separate from the recent college admission scandal involving an admission consultant running a scheme to get students into prestigious universities.